How to Remove Your Wheel Locks…One Way or Another

Did your wheel locks lock you out? Don’t worry, keep reading…

Whether you have bone stock or flamboyant aftermarket wheels on your car, there’s a good chance you have wheel locks. Most new car dealers install wheel locks on every new vehicle they sell, partly out of necessity and importance, and partly for a small bump in price. Along with those wheel locks comes a key to remove them – but just one. You don’t get a spare and you’ll never order a replacement in time for when you really need it.

Mcgard wheel locks

That brings me to the first incredibly important step in the process: DON’T MISPLACE YOUR WHEEL LOCK KEY! Keep your wheel lock key somewhere you’ll be able to find it when it’s required. Either keep your wheel lock key in your glove box, in your center console, or with your tire jack and tools.

It’s rather important that you store your wheel lock key in your car somewhere. If you happen to get a flat tire and need to install your spare, it won’t be possible if your wheel lock key is sitting in your toolbox at home. And when you take your car for new tires, they won’t be able to take your wheels off without it.

How to Remove Wheel Locks WITH the Wheel Lock Key

If you’re one of the fortunate souls who can find their wheel lock key without searching for an hour, pat yourself on the back. It’s time to pull those pesky yet useful wheel locks off. As a handy mechanic, you probably already have your set of tools such as torque wrenches, tire wrenches and such. For this job, you’re going to need your tire wrench, or a socket and bar. Most lug nuts are either a 19mm or 21mm hex and your wheel lock key is likely the same as your factory lug nuts.

Step 1: Match up the wheel lock key with the wheel lock

The wheel lock is manufactured with a pattern and the wheel lock key will only fit on it one way. Whether the pattern is inset into the wheel lock as a groove or it’s notched on the outside of the wheel lock, the wheel lock key will drop into place when you find the right position. Just turn the wheel lock as you lightly hold the key in place. You’ll feel it stop moving when it lines up.

Step 2: Loosen the wheel lock

Place your tire wrench onto the end of your wheel lock key. It’s going to take some force to initially loosen the wheel lock. Place the tire wrench pointed slightly up from horizontal in the nine o’clock position. Cautiously press with an increasing amount of force on your tire wrench until with a groan, the wheel lock starts to turn. It may actually require standing and bouncing on the tire wrench to break it loose. Make sure you hold onto something or someone so you don’t fall and hurt yourself.

Once it starts turning, you’ll be able to get it the rest of the way off with the wrench.

Or, there’s the other way…

How to Remove Wheel Locks WITHOUT the Key

It’s not an ideal situation. You’ve got wheel locks but you can’t find that little socket to get them off. You’ve searched high and low, inside and out, to no avail. Your last resort is the only one left – remove the wheel locks without a key.

There are a few ways to tackle this project:

  • You can attempt to use an air hammer to bust the wheel locks off.
  • You can purchase a wheel lock removal kit.
  • You can make your own wheel lock removal socket.

Chisel them off

If you need your wheel locks off right this moment, you can use an air hammer to bust them to smithereens. The process is your least ideal situation because there’s an extremely high chance you’re going to damage your wheels. Plus, the process can result in busted wheel locks that won’t come off!

Step 1: Protect your rims as much as possible

Put masking tape, duct tape, or painter’s tape on the rim around the wheel lock. Pieces of metal could go flying and chip up your rims.

Step 2: Try to turn the wheel lock using a flat chisel blade.

It’s a long shot, but maybe you can loosen the wheel lock by rotating it with the air hammer. Try a few times, ding up your rim, swear a handful of times, and curse your misfortune. Then move onto the next step.

Step 3: Bust up the wheel lock.

Use a blunt-tipped chisel and give ‘er. You’re already in this deep, so try to bust the wheel lock all the way off. Hammer directly on the wheel lock, praying that it will split off so you can get your wheel off. It might break off in sections as well.

In the end, you might be making a mess of the problem. Your rim could be damaged, and your wheel lock busted but still in place. You might have to throw your hands up in the air and call for professional assistance…

Make your own wheel lock removal socket

If you have an array of tools and sockets, you might be able to remove your wheel locks successfully.

Step 1: Find a socket that ALMOST fits

You want a socket that’s barely too small to slide over the wheel lock. It’s the size just below the one that actually fits over top.

Step 2: Whack it on with a hammer

Using a heavy hammer, pound that socket onto the wheel lock. The goal is to have the socket grip the wheel lock key using friction alone. It’s going to take a few really good strikes with a hammer to get it in place.

Step 3: Loosen the wheel lock.

Air tools can be quite useful at this point. An air impact wrench has the sudden torque to jar the wheel lock loose. However, if you don’t have air tools, a long-handled breaker bar can work as well.

Whether you use an impact wrench or a breaker bar, the socket has to be seated incredibly tight on the wheel lock. Don’t be surprised if you have to repeatedly smack the socket back on before the wheel lock loosens. And once the wheel lock comes off, you’ll probably have to pound it free from the socket’s grip.

Buy a Wheel Lock Removal Kit

Apparently, it’s a common problem to have. Losing or breaking your wheel lock key must be a story many people can tell because a universal wheel lock remover has become necessary. You can find a wheel lock removal kit online from several retailers, including the Irwin Hanson Lugnut Specialty Extractor Kit from Amazon.

The theory is impeccable – the sockets are designed with spiral flutes inside the socket. When you put the socket over the wheel lock, the flutes bite into the exterior and give you the leverage necessary to spin the wheel lock free.

Step 1: Choose the right size extractor socket for your wheel lock

Choose the socket from the kit that’s closest in size while being slightly too tight to slide on. You need it to grab into the wheel lock.

Step 2: Turn the extractor to seat it onto the wheel lock

If you have access to air tools, use them! Apply light pressure on the extractor socket with your impact wrench until you feel it bit into the wheel lock. If you’re using hand tools, it could take a minute of trying before your extractor will start to grab.

Step 3: Crank on the extractor to break the wheel lock free

With your impact wrench, press the trigger in short bursts to get the wheel lock unseated and spinning. A long session could work, but you run the risk of the flutes ripping free. Every time the extractor loses its grip, the wheel lock gets shredded up a bit and may not come with the wheel lock removal tool.

Summary

Whether you’ve broken or lost your wheel lock key, it’s not a good place to be. There are solutions to get you out of your bind but none are as ideal as using your wheel lock key. Keep it stored in a safe place so you can find it when you need it.

To prevent your wheel lock key from being damaged, don’t use air tools to loosen your wheel locks. The incredible force that air tools exert can easily crack or strip your wheel lock key or wheel lock. It might still work a few more times, but eventually, you’ll be left with a broken wheel lock key.

Need a new wheel lock set after removing your old ones? We’ve got that covered for you. Check out our guide on selecting the right wheel locks for your application.

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